Skin Cancer: The Dangers of Melanoma


With summer comes the delight of the sun, but also its dangers. Knowing the risks associated with increased ultraviolet exposure and how to spot skin cancer in the early stages are critical.

Skin Cancer Rates on the Rise

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. In fact, over the past three decades, more people have been diagnosed with skin cancer than all other cancers combined. One in five Americas will develop skin cancer at some point in their lives, and this number is on the rise.

Dangers of Melanoma

There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, which are considered nonmelanoma skin cancers, and melanoma. Although melanoma accounts for less than five percent of skin cancer cases, it is the cause for the vast majority of skin cancer deaths. 

In the state of Iowa alone, melanoma is responsible for a majority of all skin cancer deaths. As with the national trend, the rate of new melanoma cases in Iowa is on the rise and has more than tripled in the last three decades.  This steady increase can be seen in diagnoses throughout the world and is likely due to increased ultraviolet exposure from the sun and tanning beds.

Melanoma usually starts in heavily pigmented tissue, such as a mole or birthmark, but can also begin in normally pigmented skin. While it is predominantly a disease of the skin, in rare occurrences it may occur in other sites, including mucous membranes (vulva, vagina, lip, throat, esophagus and perianal region), as well as in the eye (uvea and retina). 

If detected and treated early, melanoma is usually curable. However, it progresses faster than other types of skin cancer and can spread beyond the skin to affect various other parts of the body, including the bones or brain. Once it spreads, melanoma becomes much more difficult to treat. Because of this dire need to detect melanoma early, performing skin self-examinations and receiving regular skin examinations from your physician are highly recommended. 

Self examination: How to Spot Moles

The American Academy of Dermatology and the Skin Cancer Foundation recommend that everyone do a skin self-exam once a month, and more often for people with a family history of skin cancer. When performing a skin self-examination, one should check for skin abnormalities, including changes in skin color or texture, sores or bumps.

To be sure you are able to inspect all areas of your body, the American Academy of Dermatology suggests this recommended method for inspecting your skin:

  • Standing in front of a full-length mirror, examine your front, back and sides with your arms raised.
  • One arm at a time, inspect your forearms, underarms and palms. Utilize a handheld mirror to inspect the front and back of your legs, buttocks, between your toes and the bottom of your feet.
  • Inspect the back of your neck, ears and scalp with a handheld and full-length mirror, ensuring to move your hair and checking every surface.
  • Be sure to carefully examine your shoulders, neckline and all other areas that are exposed to extra sunlight.

As you examine your body, be on the lookout for any moles, blemishes, sores or bumps that may be new or changing. Carefully inspect all moles using the ABCDE method to identify abnormalities that should be inspected further by a doctor:

  • Asymmetry: a mole that has an uneven shape
  • Border: a mole with an irregular border
  • Color: a mole with color that varies from one 
  • Diameter: any mole larger than a pencil eraser in diameter
  • Evolution: the mole's color, shape or size that has changed over time

Getting Moles Checked

If you do spot one of these abnormalities, don’t panic. Simply consult your physician or dermatologist for a complete skin examination. If your doctor is interested in testing the area, part of all of the abnormal tissue will be removed from the area to check it for cancer cells. This is called a biopsy and usually only takes a few minutes. The sample will then be sent to a lab and a pathologist will check the tissue for cancer cells.

Skin Cancer Treatment

Most patients who are diagnosed with skin cancer in the early stages can be cured with surgery. However, as melanoma spreads, survival rates decrease drastically. Because of this, improving early diagnosis and acting quickly once diagnosed is essential.

John Stoddard Cancer Center – Putting Time on Your Side

Previously, patients who were diagnosed with melanoma were required to see a number of specialists and wait to schedule visits with each doctor to determine a plan of action. Because melanoma is so aggressive, John Stoddard Cancer Center works directly with your doctor to expedite care and group appointments together immediately after diagnosis.

At the John Stoddard Cancer Center, know that we will be here for you through every step of your battle with melanoma. Our specialists are experienced in dealing with every stage of this disease and utilize cutting-edge treatments and resources to design the best possible treatment plan for you.

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